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Marketing the digital storefront

Digital car-buying platforms are doing more than revamping how dealerships move metal.

They’re altering the advertising strategies for stores that have adopted online purchase tools from startups such as Roadster and Drive Motors, which turn dealer websites into shopping hubs where consumers handle most or all of a vehicle purchase without setting foot in a store.

Dealerships at the forefront of the digital-sales transition say they must move past the old blueprint of always pushing low prices and must increasingly market the shopping experience itself.

The result is a mix of old and new. The options range from search campaigns on Google to mailers that break down the process step by step.

Paragon Honda and Paragon Acura in New York City have incorporated Roadster’s Express Storefront platform into an online suite of services called “Paragon Direct.” The trio of options takes vehicle purchases online along with service and test-drive scheduling.

Express Storefront, which is linked to dealership websites, enables consumers to choose a vehicle, get approved for credit, value trade-ins, settle on down payments and choose finance and insurance products. The vehicle is then delivered to the consumer.

“I think the more we talk about speed, convenience and value, the better the customer is going to react,” Brian Benstock, general manager of both stores, told Automotive News. “We have to stop using the same metrics that we used before: drop the price, drop the price, drop the price. Let’s talk about upping the service, upping the customer handling, improving the customer experience.

“Amazon doesn’t guarantee you the best price in the marketplace,” he added. “They’re going to give you service that is second to none. I think we can do that, too.”

‘Store without walls’

Benstock said his stores have been pitching Paragon Direct via targeted YouTube pre-roll spots as well as Facebook and Instagram ads with “shop now” buttons that relay people to the digital storefronts.

But the outreach isn’t purely digital. Paragon Honda sent a mailer to potential customers that explains how to use Paragon Direct’s lineup, including a section about the online sales feature that’s presented in three steps. The message closed with: “Welcome to our store without walls.” Benstock said the stores also run TV ads touting Paragon Direct.

Toyota Marin of San Rafael, Calif., another Roadster user, aggressively pushes online retailing. It touts the feature through search engine marketing, display ads, retargeting campaigns and video pre-roll on YouTube.

The ads consumers see vary depending on where they are in the purchase cycle, said Mike Christian, Toyota Marin’s general manager. If a consumer is being retargeted from a third-party site such as Edmunds, for instance, the dealership will hammer home the message that customers can buy online while seeing their payments as they work through a deal.

The store also ensures that customers are introduced to the Express Storefront at every touch point. Internet leads from third-party sites, call-ins and online chats, plus visitors who come into the dealership are given links to the storefront that display the vehicles they’re interested in.

Sticking around

Although Toyota Marin hasn’t run a TV spot in about five years, Christian said the dealership plans to return to the airwaves with a campaign touting the digital storefront soon.

The store also has a landing page, as do the Paragon locations, that describes the digital retail experience.

Christian said the Express Storefront had more than 10,000 unique page views in July. People are staying on the storefront pages for nearly 10 minutes on average.

Marty Mayfohrt, CEO of the Madera Auto Center in California’s Central Valley, says advertising around the Drive Motors platform has been low-key while some of the kinks are being worked out.

Madera Toyota and Madera Auto Center site, which houses inventory for the Toyota store and Madera Chevrolet, features Drive Motors. The Madera Chevrolet website, on the other hand, uses GM’s Shop.Click.Drive program.

The stores have used email campaigns, site promotions, social advertising and paid search to pitch their digital retail capabilities.

The Drive Motors system had generated more than 40 leads and seven sales, as of early August, since being installed in April. Of those seven sales, six of the buyers came to the store to finalize the deal so they could see the product before buying.

“Our people are a little more traditional in how they buy vehicles” compared with the techie crowd in Silicon Valley, Mayfohrt told Automotive News. “We would expect [digital retailing] to be a little slower growing here.”

by Vince Bond Jr
source: Automotive News